Jimmy Barnes (HarperCollins) 2016, 362pp, RRP $45.00
Dead-set Aussie Legend Jimmy’s – sorry, Barnesy’s – autobiographical volume is the first of a projected pair, and therefore fans of Cold Chisel and his beloved solo work might be surprised by the fact that this is primarily about his youth in Glasgow and then Adelaide, with only occasional mentions of his later fame, which will be chronicled in an as-yet-unfinished second part. And yet this offering is still a bloody amazing read, and although Jimmy doesn’t go in for snappy prose and sometimes trips over his conversational tone, it’s so intimate and confronting that it really doesn’t matter, and there are times you can almost hear him shrieking the words in that (in)famous singing voice.
Detailing his earliest memories of Cowcaddens, inner Glasgow, Jimmy (at that point James Dixon Swan) paints a vivid picture of a town where the population lives to drink and fight and, it seems, little else, and while fairly dismissive of his Dad Jim, there’s much here that celebrates the life of his long-suffering yet formidable Mum Dot. When they decided to emigrate and wound up in Adelaide’s ‘Satellite City’ of Elizabeth in the summer of 1962, when Jimmy was five, the family increased in size (six kids!) and the problems that the parents thought they’d be escaping only got worse.
This culture of alcohol, violence and often-abusive masculinity naturally rubbed off on Jimmy and his older brother John (a.k.a. Swanee, who’s had a few hits himself), and although his parents eventually split and his Mum married the also long-suffering Reg Barnes (a redeeming figure indeed, spoken of with much respect and love), Jimmy was soon drinking heavily, finding his way into the drug culture, getting involved in gangs and generally acting out in just about the most extreme and dangerous manner possible. If his love of music hadn’t been nurtured, who knows where he would have wound up? And you also have to ask: how the f***ing Hell did he make it through all of this alive, sane and in one piece?
For Adelaide residents, this hits close to home, with talk of Gepps Cross, Elizabeth, Main North Road and Glenelg beach, but it should prove an equally powerful and enlightening experience for anyone outside this state – or even this country. And all we have to do now is await Barnesy’s second and concluding chapter, which might well be named after his other big solo hit: No Second Prize. Or, then again, it might be better off taking its title from one of Cold Chisel’s key tunes: Cheap Wine.
Working Class Boy is available through HarperCollinsPublishers Australia. Click HERE to purchase your copy.